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How-to

How to Sew a Sweater Using Knitted Fabrics

Dec 03, 2013
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A sewing machine and some hand stitches can make a sweater, too.

Although I know how to knit, I don’t practice it much and have never really progressed beyond the basics. When it comes to knitting, I basically admire and appreciate what others can do. However, I love the coziness and comfort of sweaters, and I fell in love recently with a sweater from the Etro Spring 2014 Collection that I saw on Style.com. This sweater is loosely knit with a basic stockinette stitch, but it would still take me awhile to knit one with a similar feel and get it to fit just right. So I decided to stick to what I do best and sew a sweater instead of knitting it.

I had a piece of wool sweater knit I used a couple of years ago to create a dress for an article called “Material Mix, which appeared in Threads #164 (January/February 2013). My inspiration sweater, however, has stripes of different colors, so I needed more than one fabric. I remembered a scarf I knitted awhile back from a wool tape yarn that hadn’t turned out as planned. It was too narrow and way too long, but its variegated colors blended perfectly with the sweater knit. And the primitive knitting skills I used to create the scarf had created just the texture I was looking for. The Etro sweater has some sheer sections as well and, although I toyed with the idea of using a sheer woven fabric cut on the bias to mimic that effect, I eventually settled on just using the sweater knit fabric and the scarf.

Here is the sweater knit fabric and a scarf I was willing to repurpose were the perfect materials for my project.

I connected the scarf sections to the lower edge of the sweater and the sleeve cuffs by overlapping and hand-sewing in place. I had some of the tape yarn leftover from the original project. I used it, together with a tapestry needle, to whipstitch the sections together. A tapestry needle has a large eye and a blunt point so it doesn’t pierce the fabric.

Use a tapestry needle to hand-sew the two fabrics together.

Before cutting the scarf, I hand-sewed two parallel rows at the cutting line to secure the knit stitches so they wouldn’t ravel.

To prevent raveling, secure the knit stitches before cutting.

I sewed the shoulder, side, and sleeve seams by machine using a narrow zigzag stitch and finished each seam with a second row of slightly wider zigzag stitches right next to the first. Then I trimmed away the excess seam allowance. This mimics a French seam, but has much less bulk.

A whipstitch and the tape yarn make a smooth connection between the two pieces.

To finish the neckline, I staystitched the neck edge first by machine, 1/2-inch from the raw edge, turned it in along the stitching, and pressed.

Staystitch the neckline and turn the edge under at the stitching to stabilize the edge and minimize stretching.

Then, I bound the edge with a whipstitch using the tape yarn.

The tape yarn, secured with a hand stitch, creates the perfect finish for the overall organic look I was hoping to achieve.

Have you ever sewed a sweater or used a combination of knitting and sewing? If so, share your experiences below in the comments section.

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  1. User avater cheryl_a_l_b February 15th

    Island Peach, thanks for the warning to ravel while the yardage is intact. I hope I would have thought of that, but then, maybe I wouldn't have!
    Cheese Sandwich, your project reminds me of one I made for my son when he was very young. It was inspired by a Liz Claiborne ad featuring kids' cardigan sweaters bound in a woven. I found a salt and pepper tweedy wool knit adult sweater at a thrift shop and cut it like ordinary yardage into a child's cardigan. For the fabric bands, I used a lightweight woven cotton plaid that picked up some of the colours of the knit. The band was about 1-1/4" wide, and extended from the neckline, down the front, and around the hem; it was also used at the sleeve hem. I cut two layers, one for a facing, and enclosed the cut edges with it. The knit extended the full width of the binding for body. I finished the cardigan with a button closure. That was one of my favourites among the clothes I've made for my kids.

  2. User avater sbb7623 December 18th

    I am getting ready to make my daughter this giant scarf she wanted (out of a purchased knitted throw) and I need just needed to validate my idea. I remembered reading this article in the magazine. It's 11:30 pm ... here I go ... lol

  3. User avater cheese_sandwich December 11th

    I cut up an adult's sweater and made a jumper dress for my daughter. It was much easier than I had anticipated and am looking forward to using knit fabrics again. I might even go to the charity shop and see if I can find a nice scarf to trim the next one with!

  4. User avater MaryRay December 6th

    Thanks for the tips. I actually stabilized the shoulders on this sweater with a strip of narrow (1/8") grosgrain ribbon. But, stay tape, clear elastic, or the selvage from a woven fabric works, too.

  5. User avater user-1109916 December 5th

    A fun creative idea! Thanks for sharing Mary. Another thought, watch antique and thrift stores for pieces of crochet or old knitted items. I found a lovely crochet piece that had come off the edge of a circular table cloth. It cam easily be added to the bottom of a sweater knit like this, or stitched down the front of a cardigan type sweater. It forms a lovely ruffle.i also removed the rib knitted band from a sweater that had damage in the body. It's awaiting an inspired piece of fabric. Cold, cold here in CO today, but creative ideas get the blood pumping! Thanks so much to all of you !

  6. islandpeach December 4th

    I love to knit and I like sewing with knit fabrics almost as much although it can be a bit tricky. I highly recommend a "roller" foot. That's not a walking foot but one with a little textured cylinder that pulls the fabric along without catching the stitches. Sometimes it helps to put a tear away stabilizer on the underside to keep the feed dogs from catching. Another issue is too much stretch in the shoulder seams. In ready made garments you'll often see them reinforced with transparent elastic but you can also use a little strip of self-fabric added to that seam. It will have some give but also control the amount of stretch. Unravelling to re-knit a ribbed edge is brilliant but I think you would want to do that before cutting into the fabric so you'll have reasonable lengths of yarn and not bitty bits.

  7. User avater MaryRay December 4th

    Thanks for all of your comments. I really love this sweater, too. I'm glad you've been inspired! I like hearing about what you're considering as well.

    Cheryl,
    I like your idea of raveling the sweater knit and actually knitting a band to it. And, you mentioned stay stitching before cutting the neckline -- very important.

  8. kmm207 December 4th

    This is the inspiration I needed to sew with knits. Does (or would) a walking foot help contain any stretching of the fabric? Great article, instructions and beautiful sweater! I love the combination of store-bought knit fabric and the hand-made product.

  9. User avater JillTurner December 4th

    This article gives me some inspiration to try this out. I also do not knit anything like sweaters it's too big a project for my skills. This project idea is just perfect to add to my Things to try file.

  10. User avater joi December 4th

    What a nice idea and great results! Love this sweater.

  11. User avater joi December 4th

    What a nice idea and great results! Love this sweater.

  12. User avater Ojolly December 4th

    Just wanted to say how lovely this is! Pretty textures and colors!! I've been sewing only sweater knits for more than a year now. I'm so glad to see others enjoying these amazing fabrics.

  13. User avater lhamo55 December 3rd

    Great idea. For more experienced knitters, this could be a nice way to use use luxury yarns that would be too expensive to use in knitting an entire sweater.

  14. Juney December 3rd

    I love this idea, as I enjoy sewing and serging knits its my favourite fabric to work with, I can't wait to make one myself. Juney

  15. User avater cheryl_a_l_b December 3rd

    Love the sweater! The neckline finish is perfect.
    I purchased a bulky cable-knit sweaterknit fabric that I plan to sew into a sweaterdress. My knitting skills seem similar to yours, very basic, but I thought I'd try raveling some of the yarn from the fabric to knit a ribbed hem and neckline. Haven't tried it yet, but I think it will work as long as I ravel rather than cut the lower edge, and preserve the knit loops to line up on a circular knitting needle. For the neckline, since I won't be able to ravel it and achieve a rounded shape, I guess I can cut and staystitch it, then handsew a separately knitted ribbing to finish it. Does this sound as though it will work?

  16. User avater chelosunny December 3rd

    I love the color. I plan to shop my home first now that I have been inspired. I agree more articles like this one. Thx

  17. User avater wicked_stitcher December 3rd

    i found a lovely panel of all wool rust garter micro stitch knit. it proved just enough to make an asymmetrical boho Tilton sweater top. while i didn't combo it w/any other fabs, i did use a cayenne serged stitch to join the seams, left to view at the front and raglan sleeve lines. i didn't hem, but merely used the serger to finish the pocket, collar, hem and sleeves! gawjus

  18. grd1604 December 3rd

    I LOVE this! What a beautiful job. And so much faster than knitting! Recently a friend asked me to do something with all the sweaters her mom knitted. I cut them up and sewed them into an Afghan that she loves to wrap up in. She drapes the Afghan over her mom's chair which sits next to a photo of them both in younger days. So much nicer than sweaters sitting in a drawer.

  19. Sewing2enjoying December 3rd

    This is exactly the type of idea I love to see! I absolutely adore it when I can re-use fabric or clothing items that are wonderful but maybe too large or too small. Thank you so very much! I love it!

  20. Dressin December 3rd

    Just yesterday I was trying to come up with ideas to use up some knit fabric in my stash. You have given me a starting point to think outside the norm. thanks for the inspiration!

  21. User avater StarrBlack December 3rd

    This is a fantastic application. Imagine just how much I love it considering this is in a colour I really don't like! Beautiful job, superb idea.

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